I recently reviewed Dancing at the Edge: Competence, Culture and Organization in the 21st Century, by Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester, for Amazon.com and a short story in the book caught my attention. The story’s punch line points to a conundrum many people are facing today. First the story:
In his book Radical Hope the philosopher Jonathan Lear tells the story of …Plenty Coups, chief of the Crow nation at the end of the 19th century. His tribe [was] coming under pressure from the white man to give up their way of life and enter the reservation. The culture that had supported and defined the Crow nation’s world was threatened with collapse.
Plenty Coups described the transition many years later as follows: “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again.” As one Crow woman put it, in terms that many would echo today: “I am trying to live a life I do not understand.”
How many people today are trying to live lives they do not understand?
I contend that anyone with any awareness knows the old ways are losing ground, credibility, even usefulness while nothing seems to be rising to take their place. We are living in a world where one paradigm is falling away while the new one isn’t fully formed.
Using a physical metaphor, it is like having one foot on the dock and the other on a tiny dingy which isn’t tied to the dock. If you have ever been in that position your know that at some point you either have to put all your weight on one or the other, the boat or the dock, or you will most certainly get very wet.
Paradigm straddling can be that way too. If you remain loyal and invested in the old, you will have trouble with anything that challenges that worldview, precluding acceptance of anything that doesn’t make sense from that perspective. If you try to live in both worlds, it can drive you crazy.
My suggestion is to invest yourself in the new paradigm, even if it hasn’t been fully formed or accepted. Start living from that place and let the rest of the world catch up with you. Remember, the new paradigm of thought doesn’t replace the old one, it simply absorbs it. We can continue using the bits that are still useful and release what no longer fits.